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POLITICS

LATEST: Macron to address France in TV broadcast on Wednesday evening

French President Emmanuel Macron will make a live TV broadcast to the nation on Wednesday at 8pm, the president's office has confirmed, as he faces increasing pressure to announce new measures to halt a third wave of coronavirus infections.

LATEST: Macron to address France in TV broadcast on Wednesday evening
French President Emmanuel Macron has been hoping that the anti-Covid vaccine could be the game changer that would allow France to avoid a third nationwide lockdown. Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP

What’s happening?

The president’s Elysée Palace confirmed the TV appearance will take place on Wednesday evening, after a meeting of the Defence Council on Wednesday morning, which will examine which new measures are needed to halt the exponential rise in Covid cases.

Speaking after the Defence Council meeting on Wednesday government spokesman Gabriel Attal said only that any new measures would be announced by Macron in his TV broadcast.

He did however add, in reply to Paris hospital chiefs who had suggested that they would soon have to start turning away patients because hospitals are so full: “France will never refuse a patient. Triage of patients is not an option, never has been and never will be.”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex will update the French parliament on the health situation and hold a vote on any new measures.

What does this mean?

France’s first and second lockdowns were both announced in live TV appearances by the president, in contrast to lesser measures or the loosening of restrictions, which tend to be announced by Castex or Health Minister Olivier Véran.

However during the health crisis Macron has also made TV appearances in which no extra measures were announced. In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday the president appeared to be sticking by his strategy of not imposing a third full, nationwide lockdown.

What is the situation in France?

There is no doubt that the government is under pressure to act.

Covid-19 case rates are rising rapidly with average daily rates now approaching 40,000 new cases – not far short of the 50,000 a day that France saw before the second lockdown in October.

Hospitals are struggling to cope with the high number of intensive care unit patients. On Monday France had 4,974 patients admitted into intensive care units in total, more than at the peak of the second wave of the virus in autumn (4,903 on November 16th).

Nine out of 10 intensive care beds were occupied in France, according to health ministry data given to AFP (6,833 out of 7,665 in total on March 26th).

Neighbouring countries including Germany and Spain have imposed extra restrictions on arrivals from France while the UK mulls over doing the same.

Further pressure was heaped on the government over the weekend when a group of emergency doctors wrote an open letter to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper saying that Paris hospitals were so overwhelmed that they may soon have to start turning away patients.

Meanwhile French newspaper Libération’s front page on Tuesday simply says ‘What are you waiting for?’

So does this mean another nationwide lockdown?

Not necessarily, in an interview with the JDD on Sunday Macron said: “We are going to look at our present braking measures in the next few days and will take whatever decisions are needed.

“At present, nothing is decided.”

It seems unlikely that no new measures will be introduced, but they might stop short of a full, nationwide lockdown.

School closures – The head of the Paris hospitals group on Sunday called for a complete nationwide lockdown and the closure of the country’s schools.

The government has repeatedly said that closing schools would be a last resort once everything else has been tried (and schools stayed open during the second lockdown) but the prevalence of the ‘UK variant’ of the virus which seems to affect younger people more may force their hand. Tighter restrictions in schools were introduced last week, with classes now closing after one confirmed Covid case, as opposed to three cases previously. 

On Wednesday morning BFM TV claimed the president was now seriously considering closing schools nationwide, according to its sources at the Elysée while Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has also called for the closure of schools.

Regional lockdowns – There are still wide regional variations in case numbers in France, with incidence rates in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis at a sky high 781.2 per 100,000 people, according to the latest public health data, while in the Brittany département of Finistère it is 85.3 – the France average is 370.6 per 100,000 people.

Nineteen areas of France have already been placed on ‘lockdown light’ with the closure of non-essential shops and a ban on inter-regional travel, but with considerably more relaxed rules around trips out of the home, exercising and socialising many fear that these restrictions are too loose to be effective.

Travel bans – At the start of the month France relaxed its international travel restrictions, meaning that travellers from seven non-EU countries – including the UK, Australia and New Zealand – no longer have to prove ‘essential reasons’ to travel to France. However as neighbours begin to impose tighter restrictions on travellers from France, the borders could once again be closed.

There is also the possibility of a ban on travel between regions in France. At present people who live in ‘lockdown light’ zones are not allowed to travel to another region – and checks on travellers were stepped up on Friday – but this could be extended to the whole country, especially ahead of the Easter holiday over the weekend.

Short lockdown – the other option is for the government to impose a strict lockdown along the model of the spring restrictions – stay-at-home order, closure of all schools, attestations needed for all trips out – for a short time in the hopes it will bring the hospital situation under control. 

Vaccinations

The present situation in France could briefly be summed up as a race between vaccines and variants, with variants so far in the lead.

However the French vaccine programme, desperately slow at the beginning, has in recent weeks dramatically sped up and is now vaccinating around 400,000 people a day – including at weekends.

With the programme set to shift up another gear in mid April, when a large delivery of Pfizer vaccines is expected, the president’s strategy seems to be to put in just enough restrictions to keep the situation in hospitals under control until the ‘vaccine effect’ can kick in.

There is also a political element to the calculations as Macron has staked political capital on his decision not to lock down in January or February, when many of France’s neighbours did.

Véran, on the other hand, is reported to favour another lockdown, although Elysée insiders were keen to play down reports of a clash, telling Le Parisien: “There is no difference of opinion between Olivier Véran and Emmanuel Macron. It is normal that, during the Defence Councils, which meet at the Elysée and which are collegial bodies, each one brings back information from the field and that he gives his opinion accordingly. Olivier Véran and the others. The collective is a reality.”

Member comments

  1. I find it interesting school classes are closed after a single case, yet offices are closed for a day, disinfected, and the work goes on, yet the government’s claim continues to be that the work place is one of the main sources of transmission. I also wonder how many more parties the kids will have if schools are closed, considering how many I can already hear in neighboring buildings each night.

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MONEY

Revealed: What will you receive from France’s €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

The French parliament has finally passed a massive €65 billion package of measures aimed at helping French residents with the spiralling cost of living. Here's a rundown of the help on offer, who it's available to and when it comes into effect.

Revealed: What will you receive from France's €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

After three weeks of sometimes heated debate, France’s parliament has adopted its multi-part purchasing power package to help mitigate rising cost of living and inflation.

In total, parliament approved a budget of nearly €65 billion for the whole package. 

It includes a raft of measures including price shields, tax rebates and grants. Here’s what is included and who will benefit.

Electricity and gas The government has voted to extend the tariff shield on gas and electricity prices until the end of the year: this means that gas prices will continue to remain frozen and that price hikes for electricity prices will be capped at four percent. 

For who: This applies to everyone who has a gas or electricity account in France.

When: The price freeze is already in effect and will continue until at least December 31st.

Fuel subsidy – The government’s fuel rebate (on petrol/gasoline and diesel) will be increased from €0.18 per litre to €0.30 in September and October, and then in November and December it will fall to €0.10. 

For who: All drivers (including tourists) – this is applied automatically at all fuel stations in France

When: The €0.18 per litre rebate is already in place and remains until August 31st, and rises to €0.30 on September 1st.

Pensions – The index point for pensions will be raised by four percent.

Who: This covers anyone who receives a French pension – roughly 14 million people – it does not affect anyone who gets a pension from another country.

When: From September 9th. 

Abolishing the TV licence fee – The annual TV licence raised €3.7 billion a year for public broadcasting, with the majority having gone toward France Télévisions, but has now been scrapped. It was €138 per household. 

For who: Any household with a television. This equates to about 23 million households in France who will no longer have to pay this yearly tax.

When: The was due to be levied on November 15th, but this year no bills will be sent out.

Tripling the Macron bonus – The maximum annual bonus – which is exempt from income and social security taxes – will be tripled.

It is a one time, tax-free payout that can be given to workers by their employers – if they chose to. Companies will now be able to pay up to €3,000 to their employees (and up to €6,000 for those with a profit-sharing scheme).

Who: This pertains to salariés (employees) whose businesses choose to offer this bonus.

When: The bonus can be paid between August 1st and December 31st.

Rent cap – Rent increases will be limited to 3.5 percent per year for existing tenants. Some cities already have in place their own rent control schemes, but the 3.5 percent cap is nationwide.

Who – This affects anyone who already has a tenancy agreement for a property in France (and also affects all landlords who are banned from making big rent hikes).

When – The 3.5 percent cap concerns annual rent increases that fall between July 2022 and June 2023.

Housing allowance – Those who benefit from personalised assistance for housing (APL) will see that increased by 3.5 percent.

Who: This pertains to those who qualify for governmental financial assistance with rent. Typically, this means low-income households. If you are already on APL – around 3.5 million people – the increase will be automatic, if you think you might qualify, apply through your local CAF.

When: The increase comes in your next payment, with the increased rate backdated to July 1st 2022.

Social benefits – The RSA top-up benefit will be increased by four percent (local authorities, who deal with RSA, will receive €600 million to help them finance and allocate this increase). Additionally, those who benefit from the ‘prime d’activité‘ (activity bonus) will see that value raised by four percent as well.

Who: Unemployed people below the age of 25 can qualify for RSA – this pertains to about 1.9 million people in France. The activity bonus is available to low-income workers – about 4.3 million people.

When: Catch-up payments will be in place from August 18th to September 5th. On September 5th, the updated payment will begin to be paid out.

Student grants – An increase of 4 percent for student grants (bourses) for higher education

Who: Students under the age of 28 who qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants. These students must qualify as ‘financially precarious’ for the school year of 2022-2023.

When: September 2022

Back-to-school grants – Families who meet certain income requirements are eligible for an allowance to help cover back-to-school costs – that grant will increase by four percent this year. There will also be an extra €100 subsidy for eligible families (with an additional €50 per child) paid “to those who need it most” according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with RTL. 

Who: Low-income families with children. You can test your family’s eligibility on the website www.service-public.fr. This aid will impact 10.8 million households.

When: The one time payment will be paid at the start of the school-year in September.

The option to convert overtime days into extra cash – This is encompassed in two measures: increasing the ceiling of tax exempt overtime hours to €7,500 and opening the possibility for companies to buy back RTT days from their employees.

Eligible employees covered by the 35-hour week agreement accrue time in lieu if they work overtime, known as RTT days. Currently this time is taken as extra vacation days, but now employees will have the option to forgo the time off and instead be paid extra.

Who: For the buying back of RTT days, this applies to employees (salariés) who have an RTT agreement with their company.

For the increased cap on non-taxed overtime work, this applies to a range of employees, such as those who have 35-hour per week contracts and have their employer request that they work overtime or those who work beyond their part-time contract amount. You can learn more about whether you have the ability to declare overtime hours HERE

When: The RTT days buyout will run from between January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2025. For employees eligible for tax-free overtime compensation, the ceiling of €7,500 will only be in place for the year 2022.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

Pay rise for public sector workers – public sector pay will get a four percent rise in the index.

Who: Anyone employed in France as a fonctionnaire (eg civil servants, teachers, librarians).

When: This will be retroactive to July 1st

Assistance for some self-employed workers – A reduction in health and maternity insurance contributions will be introduced for low-earning self-employed workers. “Microentrepreneurs” will also benefit from a reduction in their flat-rate contributions.

Who: Self-employed workers whose monthly income does not exceed 1.6 times the minimum wage and who are registered as ‘microentrepeneurs’

When: TBC

The biometric carte vitale –  The Senate introduced this into the purchasing power package, but it is not a benefit. It will involve the implementation of a biometric carte vitale health card to “fight against social fraud” by adding an electronic chip with biometric data on it to health insurance cards. You can read more HERE.

Who: Everyone who is registered in the French health system and has a carte vitale (about 60 million people)

When: Lawmakers will begin plans to implement the plans in Autumn 2022, but it’s not clearly exactly what form the rollout will take.

How much will these measures impact inflation?

Some measures will likely be more effective than others. For instance, the extension of the tariff shield and increase of the fuel rebate in the early fall is largely to thank for France’s inflation level being two points lower than the European average, according to INSEE.

On the other hand, the tripling of the ceiling for the (optional) Macron bonus will likely not make a large difference. This is because it will likely not be widely taken advantage of, as last year only 4 million French people received the optional bonus, with the approximate average of the bonus having been only €500.

The pension changes will impact about 14.8 million people in France. However, according to economist Christopher Dembik, the revalorsation values are based on actual inflation and not on inflation expectations. “These revaluation measures will be too weak by the time they will be implemented,” Dembik said to French daily Le Parisien.

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